CBD Chemistry: Defeating the Opioid Crisis Fair and Square

Cannabidiol (CBD) has a competitive edge over big pharma like Oxycodone due to its lower addictive potential, but why? Let’s scrutinize its chemical structure and physical properties. First, we begin by introducing CBD’s chemical structure:

Figure A: Molecular Structure/Isolated Crystallography of Cannabidiol (CBD).   

Cannabidiol, as depicted, is a phenol-containing compound that chemists consider ‘well-rounded’. This is due to it having many functional groups, including a lone alkane, alkene, benzene ring, and a di-hydroxyl group. By the configuration of these groups, the molecule is considered less bulky with less than normal steric hindrance (a term that describes the ability for other molecules to interact with itself). Cannabidiol’s structure permits a lower melting point than other hemp derivatives since the extra single-chain groups covers greater surface-area, promoting intermolecular interactions between millions of these molecules. This is contrary to the stacking capability that many straight-chain alkanes rely on (purely covalent, found in many prescribed opioids and terpenes). These properties are useful when considering what CBD does to protein receptors in our body’s neurons to create an organismal affect and the associated symptoms. 

To everyone’s benefit, a molecule of CBD is distinct from its derivative, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), because of one chemical concept that allows for easier digestion: the location of its open-ring structure. You might notice that a molecule of CBD seems to have a lot of junk going on towards the middle, where there appears to be an –OH and alkene group (the double-line). It turns out, these two groups are involved in facilitating enzymatic digestion, and clinical studies have found significant conversion of CBD by sensitivity to acids including concentrated sulfuric acid, demonstrating its capacity as a metabolite. Moreover, CBD is a molecule that is produced by an alternate synthetic pathway guided by specific enzymes, all of which are unique from the THC pathway, suggesting CBD’s unique identity as a chemical. 

These properties elucidate an important physical feature of CBD, which is its wide surface geometry. This allows for higher membrane fluidity, which plays a role in explaining why its metabolic rate before excretion is better than THC. All in all, THC not only involves a different class of enzymes but also has physiological effects that last longer before wearing off unlike CBD. To understand why that is the case, just examine THC’s closed-ring epoxide structure, found in the central ring: 

Figure B: Molecular Structure/Isolated Crystallography of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).   

CBD is unique and offers an alternative to many debilitating conditions without the side-effects of traditional therapies. As with any other neurotransmitter that is naturally produced, this chemical binds specifically to create what you feel in terms of relief and long-term healing. Important to bring to the front stage is the usage of CBD in serving as a musculoskeletal and joint relief for any sort of chronic pain; this might just be the newest remedy to treat post-surgical pain control. Stay tuned to learn more about the types of receptors that this molecule can interact with and what actually happens physiologically to make CBD function in the body the way that it does, whether if taken as a sublingual or orally.   

We are pleased to announce the incorporation of CBD into our practice at Arlington Foot & Ankle. Please feel free to consult with expert podiatrist Dr. Ben Pearl on the topic of CBD usage as an alternative pain remedy. For consultation and purchase, contact our office at (703)-516-9408.

Authors: Dr. Ben Pearl, DPM, Anthony W. Saad.

Published July 29. 2019. Last revised at 1:52 PM on July 29.